Animal Farm Foundation: Mission

History

Animal Farm Foundation was founded and funded by a private individual, Jane Berkey, in 1985. A competitive dressage rider, Berkey originally intended AFF to serve as a haven for all animals, but most especially horses. She donated 25 of her 400 acres to AFF . In 1989, the focus shifted to serving dogs who were the victims of discrimination, and today, to restore the image of the pit bull dog as a member of the family. Their goal is simply that pit bull dogs be judged in accordance with all dogs, being no better or worse. A dog is a dog, after all! Because of this, AFF is careful to share their grants and programs with organizations that serve dogs of all types, not just pit bull dogs.

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This pooch was rescued from the Spindeltop hoarding and neglect case

Pit Bull Placebo

AFF believes that pit bull discrimination comes from a basis in fear. However, this fear oftentimes does not come from personal experience with a legitimate pit bull dog. Instead, it often takes place as a socially constructed image. For example, many people do not understand that pit bulls are a breed or type of dog… instead, they assume that any dog that is aggressive or vicious or dangerous is considered a pit bull. This can largely be attributed to the ignorance in some of our media ‘professionals’… every negative dog story describes the dog as a pit bull, whether or not that has any relevance. These uninformed individuals are not able to understand that there are pit bull puppies or senior pit bull dogs or pit bull family members, because the perception of a puppy or fragile senior does not align with their concept of a snarling animal. You can understand then why they would not consider adopting or embracing a dog labeled as a pit bull.

All Dogs are Individuals

One of the most interesting studies (and there were many!) that were shared with the interns during our time at AFF, was one in regards to visual breed ID. It has been proven that not only are our attempts at breed identification incorrect at least 75% of the time (yes!!) but that professionals (vets, scientists, shelter workers) cannot even agree on the breeds each dog should be identified as. This is because our personal experiences play a large role in the comparisons we draw between a dog’s appearance and their breed of origin. The problem with this? An incredibly tiny percentage of DNA determines the entire physical appearance in our dogs. Out of approximately 20,000 genes, less than 100 play a role in physical appearance. Wow!

Does this look like a golden retriever and boxer mix to you?!

Does this look like a golden retriever and boxer mix to you?!

Labeling

Aside from the obvious, what are the issues with labeling our dogs?

Well for one, it makes them disposable. Think about your favorite ‘brand’. Oftentimes, our society proudly aligns themselves with brands they use regularly (Ford, Oakley, Steelers, etc.) That may be all well and good, but if you prefer a specific brand, you probably find yourself comparing it to others by minimizing the competition. You prefer Ford because you think Dodges are unreliable. And in dogs, many well-intentioned but misguided attempts at pit bull advocacy have the speaker spouting off unfounded statements about bite statistics in pit bulls compared to Chihuahuas. To see value in our dogs, they need not be a specific breed, and we need not bash other breeds. By viewing our dogs as individuals, we can appreciate them for all that they are. Your lab might be a phenomenal dog, but that has so much more to do with his individual personality and experiences than his breeding and lineage.

Furthermore, labeling can lead to confirmation bias. Many first-time pit bull dog owners tell silly stories of bringing home their dog, and watching them cautiously, waiting for them to ‘snap’ or otherwise lash out. Of course, in these stories the dogs teach their owners a thing or two by cuddling up to them on the couch and licking them into submission, but this can end poorly. In any situation in life, if we approach with negativity and trepidation, we oftentimes set ourselves up for failure, and unintentionally cause the very events we are anticipating.

Regardless of ‘breed’ or ‘type’ of dog, false expectations can be dangerous or unfair to the animal. For example, if we assume that every lab is going to be naturally comfortable around children and have an affinity for water, we might not take the time to set the individual dog up for success through careful introduction and training. This may create a dog that has fear or anxiety issues. No breed description should be considered a fool-proof road map of a dog’s preferences, personality, or ability. These qualities are heavily influenced by environment and management. If we approach each dog as an individual, and let the animal tell us more than we assume based on their appearance, we are much more likely to wind up with a dog that is a happy member of our families, and of our society.

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Additionally, these preferences, personality traits, and abilities, have a large propensity for change over time. When Georgia came to us, she was deemed ‘aggressive’ with other animals, and we saw this with our own eyes. However, by carefully evaluating her actions (her lashing out was not in fact aggressive, but defensive based on fear and lack of comfort) we were able to manage her interactions with other dogs. She is now an entirely happy and confident member of our home, which includes 2 other dogs (one male, one female) and a cat. If we assumed that a dog’s genetic composition determines their personality traits, we would have never taken the opportunity to improve her associations with other animals… we would have assumed that her preferences were intact and not subject to change. This refutes the common animal rescuer statement that ‘it’s all in how they’re raised,‘ because it is in fact, more in how they are managed, that matters most. If we assumed that all dog behaviors were set by their genetics or their early life experiences, we would never give cruelty or neglect victims a chance, and everyone searching for a new family member would be getting their dogs from breeders. And that would be a huge problem!

As rescuers, shelter workers, and animal advocates, it is always in our best interest to be as honest as possible with potential adopters, volunteers, and the general public at large. By labeling dogs without factual knowledge of their true backgrounds, we are unintentionally being dishonest, and may be setting the dogs up for failure. Instead of meeting an adopter who wants a Golden Retriever, and providing them with dogs that match that physical description, we need to start advocating for “types” of dog. Maybe to the average dog owner, a Golden Retriever fills them with ideas of a dog who will happily play fetch and join the family on hikes, while snuggling in their childrens’ beds at night. Perhaps your shelter has 3 dogs that match this description, but who may or may not look like a Golden Retriever. In this case, you are providing the family with a variety of dog types, all of whom are more likely to be compatible with their lifestyle long-term, and giving many of your rescue or shelter residents an opportunity at a proper home. At the same time, you are doing your part to not reinforce stereotypes or set up false expectations. No breed description entitles an adopter the guarantee that a dog will act a certain way, or have specific preferences… only each individual dog can tell us that!

 

The world of animal rescue and advocacy is a huge one, and perhaps because of that, it is constantly evolving. That is a great thing for the animals, because it means that we are always being presented with new tools to improve our understanding, and become more competent at finding homes for unwanted pups, cats, rabbits, horses, etc. We have all been guilty of unintentionally spreading misinformation a time or two. What matters is that you take the time to educate yourself as thoroughly as possible, and keep your own missions and morals at the forefront of your mind. Let’s make sure that when we are well-intentioned in advocating for our animals, that we are doing more GOOD than harm.

 

 

While these sentiments come from my time spent at the Animal Farm Foundation internship, any errors, omissions, or miscommunications are my own. The information comes from my own notes and understanding, but I have referenced AFF literature, and the inspiration is owed to them.

Pit Bulls and Dog Aggression: Dispelling the Myth

If we hear the term ‘pit bull,’ in the media, it is not uncommon for it to be used with a negative connotation. If you are reading this post, you probably know about a million reasons that these stereotypes are untrue. In fact, perhaps your ‘vicious’ pit bull is curled up, sleeping on your lap as you read…

Regardless of the many facts and statistics we can spout in regards to our breed’s positive traits, even ardent supporters of these dogs can recognize that some pit bulls are aggressive to other dogs. Of course, we all know tons of pitties that live happily with other pooches. Usually, these dogs have been well-socialized and slowly introduced, and live with owners who are cognizant of dog behavior and management… as is typically the case with ANY peaceful multi-dog household, regardless of breed. As we have always shared on this blog, it is so important to judge each dog on a case-by-case, individual basis. That is the only way to be fair to the dog in question.

The question remains, are pit bulls unique? As a pit bull lover and long-time proponent of the ‘breed,’ the words I am sharing may sound contradictory to my self-proclaimed title. Some of you bully breed lovers out there may feel that I am doing a disservice to the dogs, and simply perpetuating the stereotypes we work so diligently to dispel. If you are in that category, I ask you to stick with me… While I do not want to perpetuate any myths, I also think that it is vital to be objective and honest with anyone when discussing our pitties, whether they are lovers or haters.

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Are Pit Bulls Unique?

It is important to note that dog-aggression is a completely normal canine trait, present in virtually every breed in varying quantities. The fact is, this is a very common behavior in numerous breeds, including and especially working dogs and terriers. To compare, the recommendations offered by reputable pittie rescues are mirrored in websites and books, and by trainers, that focus on any other breeds of working dogs and terriers. These breeds include Jack Russels, Akitas, Huskies, Boxers, Ridgebacks, Australian Cattle dogs, Shar Peis, Poodles, German Shepherds, Dobermans, Chows, Tosa Inus, Rottweilers and many others. We can all read this list, and probably come up with many dogs we know, in each breed, who are incredibly friendly and receptive toward other dogs. (Tonka, the boxer cross, anyone?!)

In some cases, those who dislike pit bulls have used this trait to condemn them and even to justify breed specific legislation, including bans. For me to get into all of the reasons why breed specific legislation is ridiculous and ineffective would take about 5 long posts, but it is important to explain that if we allow banning based solely on breed of dog, we are enabling these bans to spread to any other breeds, due to past precedence. If you have a problem with pit bulls, and vote in support of BSL for that breed, you are one step closer to legislation that will allow your Boxer or Cattle Dog to eventually be taken from you.

It is not how dogs are raised, but how they are managed, that matters most.

*It is not how dogs are raised, but how they are managed, that matters most.*

Additionally, dog-aggression is a trait that can often be managed. Many dogs that come from cases of neglect or abuse, will not display positive reactions to other dogs. However, through repeated positive exposure to other well-mannered dogs, they may learn that there is nothing to fear in interacting with other pups. It is common for even bully lovers to say that it is how a dog is raised that matters most in their dispositions. However, this is not entirely true, and can be downright dangerous when evaluating rescued dogs. A dog with an abusive past can still be successful with other dogs and people, even if their past would suggest otherwise, given proper training and management.

The important message that we need to convey to those that are unfamiliar with our baby bullies, is that there is nothing about the pit bull breed that makes them any more unsafe or unpredictable than any other type of dog.

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While many reputable pit bull rescues recognize the breed’s potential for dog-aggression, it is important to note that dog aggression is a completely separate genetic trait than aggression toward humans. Though it is unfortunate that some dogs may have been bred to be aggressive toward other dogs, even they have always been bred to be loyal to their human counterparts.